I started the week at the Exl Pharma conference at Pfizer where I spoke and had a chance to connect with some of the top pharma communications pros. The sessions started with a poll of the room.
"Evolution of New Media"
Asked what the top global communications issue facing pharma is today, the 150 comms experts said the "evolution of new media" was number one with 27% of the room vote. Some other issues ranked high including regulatory concerns. But overall, social media was the topic of the day.
Sally Susman, SVP of Corp Comms at Pfizer, did a great job opening up the sessions. She identified two trends shaking up the business:
Growing animosity towards corporations (42% of people trust the healthcare industry to do the right thing - drop of 16%)
Far fewer outlets to promote our companies: 1 in 5 journalists have lost their job,100 newspapers have shut down.
So without the traditional editorial channels to "work", how can pharma rebuild reputation?
Sally identified some new opportunities:
1. New focus on the "how" vs. the "what." People respect what pharma makes just not the how. We need to stop defending the what we do and strive to change the "how." And I think she woudl support that we also need ot change the "how we communicate" about ourselves.
2. Talk about what we are for vs. against. She played a current TV spot that promotes affordable healthcare for all supported by the industry. This is quite a change from the spots launched during the Hillary Clinton healthcare push which were meant to sink the efforts at that time.
3. Communicate using real people telling their own stories. Sally seems convinced that regular people - patients, employees, you name it - are much better at telling the story than ads or even the CEO. She played a Fox segment featuring Dr. Jorge Puente from Pfizer who came up with a program to cover perscription costs for those who were laid off. He is a genuine spokesperson.
This is where the industry can rebuild trust. And it was a perfect lead-in to our discussion about social media later on.
Someone asked "...how should pharma use social media?"
Sally told the group (and I am paraphrasing), "We are trying a lot of things. We wanted to have a company blog and were very nervous about it. Now there is a vibrant debate about (some relatively trivial matter that surfaced on the blog - her point was that blogging didn't deliver the catastrophe some might have predicted)...We are twittering. Ray Kerins and others are tweeting, but we are not sure what will come from it. Facebook is blocked at Pfizer.... "Why?" Sally asks. She mentioned Bill Marriott's blog as a great example where it works.
She made a final, interesting point: she evaluated a recent ad campaign for its "Return on Reputation" - did it actually enhance or detract from the corporate reputation? More and more communications pros have to step in to manage the impact of all marcom efforts on the reputation, especially in an industry that still feels that its reputation remains at dangerously low levels.